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Capsule reviews of 'Journey 2,' 'Safe House' and other new releases.
"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" ' There's little mystery to this island. This 3-D sort-of sequel wears its formula-for-dollars purpose with pride, delivering a dash of cinematic nonsense that represents Hollywood calculation at its shrewdest and most shameless. Again poking Jules Verne's remains with a sharp stick, the producers of the 2008 hit "Journey to the Center of the Earth" present their second modern take on the 19th-century fantasist's wild stories. And "Mysterious Island" is every bit the amusement park ride cloaked as a movie that the first "Journey" was, the new flick stranding a misfit band of adventurers on Verne's lost island of freakish creatures. Dwayne Johnson stars this time as stepdad to a youth (Josh Hutcherson, reprising his role from the first movie) whose family has discovered Verne's sci-fi stories were true. Joining them as they rush from giant lizards and electric eels are Michael Caine, Luis Guzman and Vanessa Hudgens. Director Brad Peyton oversees a collection of impressive but annoying visuals, serving up gimmicky 3-D that's continually trying to poke things in your eye. PG for some adventure action and brief mild language. 94 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
' David Germain, AP Movie Writer
"Rampart" ' The crazy eyes and idiosyncratic drawl of Woody Harrelson are enough to carry this dirty cop study, but even such powers as those cannot make engaging this weary L.A. noir. Without Harrelson's inherent intrigue, the heavy-handed provocations of "Rampart" would be difficult to suffer. But Harrelson's intense and committed performance keeps Oren Moverman's film moving, even while the grim and overdone story wallows affectedly. Harrelson plays police officer Dave Brown in 1999 Los Angeles, in the notoriously scandal-plagued Rampart division. The film from Moverman (who directed Harrelson to an Oscar-nominated supporting performance in 2009's "The Messenger") examines the nature of a thoroughly corrupt cop like Brown. He's casually racist, considers himself a "soldier" and is eventually caught on tape beating an innocent man to a pulp. Brown has two ex-wives (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche, both looking lost) who are sisters and neighbors, with whom he has two daughters (Brie Larson, Sammy Boyarsky). When confronted by superiors or lawyers (Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi), Brown responds with a hyper-literate torrent of dubious legalese and moral equivocation. Harrelson dominates the picture, but Brown's unraveling feels increasingly unrealistic and uninteresting. Instead of leading toward understanding, "Rampart" remains a dirty cop caricature, more a complaint than a story. With the excellent Robin Wright as a love (or really just sex) interest. R for pervasive language, sexual content and some violence. 108 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
' Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer
"Safe House" ' "Forgettable" probably isn't a word you'd expect to use to describe a film starring Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepard. But unfortunately, that's one of the most apt. Directed by Daniel Espinosa from a script by David Guggenheim (not to be confused with "An Inconvenient Truth" director Davis Guggenheim), "Safe House" is a frenetically paced jumble of shaky-cam tricks and quick edits, dizzying car chases and deafening shootouts. You'd be forgiven for mistaking it for yet another action thriller from Tony Scott, given that it bears his aesthetic markings as well as the presence of Washington, his usual star. This time, Washington plays the notorious Tobin Frost, a brilliant former CIA operative who's turned traitor, selling secrets to any nation or enemy cell willing to buy them. After years on the run, he's captured and brought to an agency safe house in Cape Town, South Africa, where Reynolds, as the ambitious and idealistic Matt Weston, is its bored minder. Matt longs to prove himself and see some real action in the field, and he gets it sooner than he expects when the house comes under attack and he and Tobin must go on the run. Farmiga, Gleeson and Shepard play the suits back in the United States who are tracking their whereabouts and wondering whether they're in cahoots. But everyone here is a potential rogue, because red herrings and double-crosses abound; it's a tactic to keep us guessing and (theoretically) distract us from the fact that the movie doesn't have anything novel to do or say during its overlong running time. R for strong violence throughout and some language. 115 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
' Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic